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How travelling really made me more aware of who I am

PUBLISHED: 08:56 04 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:56 04 October 2017

EN In My View columnist Liam Heitman-Rice

EN In My View columnist Liam Heitman-Rice

Archant

The small town is a fine environment for those at the start and the end of their lives.

Various trains have been cancelled.  Picture: James BassVarious trains have been cancelled. Picture: James Bass

It is safe, quiet, and convenient: traits that serve well the needs of the very young and the very old.

But if you are 20, one is apt to go stir crazy in such a place.

From the start of June to the end of August, I remained in my little town in Devon, working in a pub.

I grew to despise the familiar, the repetition of events and scenarios became a lifeless cycle of mundanity within which I did not believe I was learning anything.

Fortunately, I could afford to remedy my inertia with an Interrail Pass. For three weeks I travelled around Europe by train: Frankfurt first (via a night in London with my brother), then Berlin to Krakow, and then Budapest, Prague and Zurich.

Depending on your outlook, travelling alone can be a challenge or an opportunity.

Each new hostel you check in to has its own crowd of happy strangers, all of whom can seem to be in their own fortified circles.

Encountering these situations every other day forces you to learn quickly how to jump in.

My opening line quite reliably followed the lines of, “Heya, do you mind if I sit with you guys? I’m a lost dog, haha.”

And it worked every time! Everyone in a hostel is in a similar situation; there to meet new people and see new things, so you are likely to share your time with someone like you.

It is the rare traveller who will reject an offer of friendship.

As I rolled further into eastern Europe, I became more skilled at acting without thinking.

I became a great deal more aware of who I was, because I was not pretending to be an enhanced version of myself to win the appeal of others.

I did not need to act or pretend any more – at the end of the day, if I didn’t connect with anyone I would be leaving the city in a few days.

This consistent motion lends itself to a renewed awareness of self: when you inhabit a space for a small period of time, all you can do is shine. And that light shall always be far dimmer when it is fed through the filter of a phony persona.

I was telling my best friend about this grand adventure and he asked, “Didn’t you ever worry about, like, ‘What are they going to think of me?’”

It was at that point I had the immediate realisation that this question did not enter my mind, at all, in the three weeks I spent travelling.

I did not stop to think of what others thought of me, because I did not have the luxury of allowing opportunities to pass me by.

Had I been with a travel companion, I would have had the comfort blanket to protect me from any need to seek new connections. The comfort blanket may well have become a strait jacket, for one is not pushed out if they are comfortable: the world passes them by.

It is clearly, and with distaste, that I am able to look back on the habits I entertained as a fresher last year.

The feelings of insecurity I felt within myself manifested themselves in a zealous campaign to appear interesting, each action and gesture designed to engage the attention of those around me.

I wanted to be seen and noticed; noted, notable; and in this pursuit I would disguise my unhappy cluelessness with the wearying effort of being extraordinary.

Yet now, as I begin again for my second year, I am comfortable in my abilities.

I do not feel as if I have to win the interest of my peers because I have already established myself.

I have under my feet those foundations solidified by experience, permitting me to walk assured and triumphant in the fields of the familiar.

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